Upon the release of their sophomore album, Barnstormers, a Decatur Alabama based band, is nervous. But they really need not be. The live show I saw at Eclipse was a great introduction to their sound. It was a small show with its share of technical difficulties, but they put on a damn charismatic performance.
The first track, “A Warm Welcome”, calls to mind a mildly demented circus or the music Tom Waits has milling around in his head all day. It’s wonderfully simple with more layers that become evident with more plays. This trend continues through the album. As does the rain. It is featured in three songs but connects the adjoining tunes as well. On paper, that sounds like a lot of rain. However it is used well and adds an ambiance when enveloped in listening. Ronnie Moore, guitarist and songwriter, has a voice that reminds me of Will Kimbrough, another Alabama musician. But it also has a nice deepness to it, that when he’s really into the song caused chills. “Magdalena” and “Misery” are the two tracks that I think displayed his vocals well. Not to mention his songwriting. It’s clever without appearing pretentious and sweetly melancholy as well. Best illustrated in “The Gift,” a tune seemingly about a lost love who won’t simply let go without dragging the protagonist along for a bit. “Another boy crosses the room as he offers a smile/ But he doesn’t know you the way that I do/ He doesn’t know your thousand yard stare/ And what it can do.” There is a point in the middle of the album that feels incomplete or causes a lull but once you reach the next song you realize that there was some intention behind it all. Chris Wilson, cellist and songwriter, brings his musical talents to the table as well as a voice that is interestingly green. There are at least 30 more aspects I could go on about, or I could just insist that you seek out this album.
From what I gather, they get quite a few vampire and True Blood references. At first listen, that makes more than enough sense. But to pinhole them as just that doesn’t give them nearly enough credit. Yeah, most of the songs sound like they’re plucked from New Orleans. And yeah, there’s a swagger to some songs that evoke sexiness. But there is so much more to it and I cannot wait to hear more from this band that calls Alabama home.
Stand out tracks: Solace, The Gift, and Tin Roof.
The words honest and genuine are thrown around so often in regards to music it can be hard to wade through the sea of so called artists. But every so often, in the wading of the sea, you stumble on an album or artist that practically screams for praise without actually asking for it.
Micah Schnabel’s full-length solo endeavor, When the Stage Lights Go Dim, is just such an album. It is honest when it needs to be and never asks for forgiveness over harsh words. I can’t remember hearing anything quite like it, and I’m confident in saying that this album will stay in constant rotation for a long time to come.
When he’s not recording solo, Schnabel plays guitar and sings for the Columbus, Ohio outfit Two Cow Garage. His song writing style throughout Stage Lights is similar to what you could hear on a Two Cow record, but there is just something unique about this album allows it to stand out from previous songs he has recorded. These songs are more personal than the ones that preceded it. The record mostly revolves around Schnabel’s life as a touring musician and his experience as a hopeless romantic. In a song titled “My Blue Heart,” he agonizes over writing his crush a poem and wishing she were his Valentine. “So I handed you my heart/ ‘Like Me’ construction paper blue/ Cause I had used up all my red/ Writing poems and songs for you.” Occasionally the two themes overlap like in “God and Money” in which he professes his love for a girl despite her parent’s disapproval. That particular theme is very played out, but Schnabel adds depth to this petty fight over ideology. The album flows nicely with a well thought out song placement. The faster songs mixed well with slower acoustic beauties, “Throwing Rocks at the Sun” with its Irish pub song vibe, and a cover of the Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” make for an album where one couldn’t ask for more. The record feels complete, full and incredibly colorful.
Though it has yet to be pressed officially, I would highly recommend looking into preordering this album from Suburban Home Records’ partner Vinyl Collective. You can also check out some of Two Cow Garage’s songs at www.myspace.com/twocowgarage
Stand out tracks: “American Static”, “A Girl Named January”, “Bury the Maps”
Last minute shows can be the ones that surprise you in the best kind of way. A few months back my brother mentioned this show and his deep desire to be in town to see it. Not being entirely familiar with the sounds of the bands, I had nearly forgotten all about it, until I saw the Bottletree’s Facebook status update (one of the few benefits of technology, right?). For those new to town, Bottletree is a small venue in downtown Birmingham that caters mostly to the indie crowd, but hosts a wide variety of acts. So I headed downtown in hopes of buying tickets at the door. I was immediately reminded why I love Bottletree. It was a Saturday night show and the whole place was jumping. There was a decent mix of people there to enjoy a good show and those just looking for a hangout with good music and a nice bar. It was a fairly small crowd considering the size of the venue causes it to sell out fast. I grabbed a soda and made my way toward the stage. I came to the show with very little knowledge of any of the acts beyond the fact that they were all Scottish.
The first act up was We Were Promised Jetpacks. I knew with a name like that they had to be truly amazing to have made it this far. They looked like they just came from a high school battle of the bands, which is incidentally how the band was formed nearly six years ago. But this unassuming look adds to the grand shock they delivered with their first song. Their sound was big, warm and round. The lead singer, Adam, has an uneasy smile and adorable accent, but when he opened his mouth to sing, I was amazed. He has a strong, dulcet and clear voice that, when coupled with their lyrics, is a simple pleasure. “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” and “Quiet Little Voices” were the stand out songs to me. The band has an interesting live sound that I am still attempting to properly place, but for illustrative purposes I could say they had some post-rock influences with simple lyrical changes, interesting effects handled by the guitarist Michael, and a slightly emo feel. Now I freely admit to being an Americana and straight rock loving kind of girl, but these cats grabbed me with their first song and did not let go until they left the stage.
The next band up was The Twilight Sad hailing from Kilsyth, Scotland. They looked much different from the first band, and at first glance one could have easily confused them for your typical college town bar band. Again I was interested to see what they would sound like, and like Jetpacks I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. They were much more post rock influenced assailing the audience with an intense wall of sound. At first I heard a bit of Explosions in the Sky in their sound, but they are much more complex than just their use of effects. The lyrics on the other hand had a much more folky appeal to them. The layers of sound and effects did wonders to bolster lead singer, James Graham’s lyrics and intensity. Graham’s live show role in the band is to sing, but he brings much more than just his voice. In “Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed” he contributed to the noise by banging on a cymbal. Throughout the show he seemed to be possessed by the songs, letting them control his movements and voice. Between the wall of sound and James Graham’s charisma the crowd seemed enamored by The Twilight Sad.
Then finally, Frightened Rabbit hit the stage. Again, they looked nothing like what I expected, with the lead singer’s beard and the whole group looked like a Paste Magazine cover. Interestingly, their look held pretty true to their sound. They have a decidedly more indie and folky sound than the first two bands. All three acts formed around 2003 but Frightened Rabbit just seemed to be in the right place at the right time when they opened for Death Cab For Cutie on their UK tour. However, it was this band though that got the room dancing and smiling. “Old Old Fashioned” even elicited some girly screams from the group behind me. Their sound was very warm, rounded and filled the venue nicely. I could hear a bit of The Shins with a little Ryan Adams in his Americana stage. The lead singer, Scott Hutchinson, dragged the sound where he wanted it to go, almost like the ringleader of a circus. He, much like Graham of The Twilight Sad, has such an air of charisma and likability about him that it is hard not to enjoy the music.
A good live show should leave you reeling. And if the performers have done their job you should leave a little different than when you arrived. The high points of the night came into light while I was driving home and dissecting the experience. I loved that each band had such a distinct and unique sound. It was almost as though had each band not held their own, the night could have felt jumbled and incoherent. However, the most interesting part of the night was coming to the realization that all three bands sang with their Scottish accents. This is refreshing to hear, but the nice thing is that it was not obvious. We Were Promised Jetpack’s singer has a newer, younger accent, but it still remains prominent in his singing and rhyming for that matter. On the other hand The Twilight Sad’s singer, James, has a much thicker accent and even rolls his R’s, but at some points in the set caused the lyrics to be hard to understand. And finally Frightened Rabbit’s singer has a much more subdued accent as it comes out in some words more than others. So having attended at the last moment I am beyond glad to have seen these bands in action. I highly recommend checking out one if not all of the bands depending on your personal music tastes.
Depending on where this change of season finds you, The Avett Brothers latest, I And Love And You, could be the perfect sound for your adventures or a gleaming reminder of what summer should have been. With cryptic album art and more press coverage than ever, The Avett boys have their work cut out for them. The Avett Brothers, a trio native to North Carolina, released their seventh studio album and major label debut last Tuesday. Unlike previous releases, this record sounds much more produced, shiny even. But as these boys will show you, a little sheen never hurt anyone. This obvious shift could be due in part to Rick Rubin’s involvement in the production. One could easily say that such an iconic name being involved in the making of this album can only help the band. But the big named producer does not affect the fact that The Avett Brothers have delivered another stand up album. However, die hard fans must note that this isn’t a continuation of previous releases.
There are a few distinct characteristics that the band carried through to their new songs. Scott Avett’s banjo playing and the brother’s harmonies still play a large role like in “Laundry Room”. They’re also known for their verse sharing and lovey-dovey songwriting displayed perfectly in “January Wedding” about a couple so deeply in love their heart is actually one. “But I know what she's sayin'/I understand because my heart and hers are the same/And in January we're gettin' married.” Some newer sounds have emerged though, Seth Avett has taken to the keys and the drums are more prevalent than in previous albums. “Kick Drum Heart,” about the giddy start of a brand new relationship highlights the new drums and keys beautifully all while making you want to dance. All in all this is a great record and released at a perfect time in the year. The title track begins the record with a kick. However, The middle has a small lull, but I mostly blame the track placement. The end is rounded out nicely, but still leaves the listener wanting more. So if you’re still looking for an album that can put that special kick in your step, look no further. Stand-out songs: It Goes On And On, I And Love And You, And It Spread.
"How was your day?"
"Are you coming to the Drive By Truckers shows in Muscle Shoals?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Are you okay?"
And all I can usually stand to say is "It's a long story.."
This past week has been probably the roughest I have had in a few years. It started off normally, nice actually. My plans with the guy I've been seeing to go see the Drive By Truckers were almost set on Monday. We had just planned on going to the Thursday show of the two night run and we would stay with his family or something instead of driving the 3 hours home. But Tuesday when I bought the tickets for me and him, I had a feeling that the whole trip was about to go belly up. My suspicions were confirmed not long after. He decided to get back together with his ex-girlfriend late that night. In addition to this blow, he told me via text message, with no explanation beyond the fact that he couldn't talk to me anymore. Now I've been dumped before, but nothing like this; nothing so childish and disrespectful. I felt like someone just hit me with a freight train, or cut off my arm then left the wound to bleed and fester. I didn't see it coming, to say the least. I was devastated and wrecked. Not only have I lost one of the only things in my life that really let me be myself, but I lost a really good friend.
This also blew the whole trip I had planned to hell. I barely had enough money for the gas to get up there and no place to stay. And I would have to eat the 60 bucks I paid for the tickets. Just adding insult to injury. But when I told my Trucker friends about what happened, I knew they wouldn't let me stay home from those shows. Not when I sincerely needed a rock show to keep me alive. The lovely Jenn came through for me BIG TIME. She gave me solid advice about my situation and she offered her parents home to me, and the possibility of getting me in for the Friday show if I needed it. I will forever be completely grateful to her and her amazing and sweet parents for this.
That was all the convincing I needed. I was going to the Shoals for the Drive By Truckers two night run in their hometown come hell or high water. Wednesday night I couldn't sleep for the excitement, bad dreams, and the Waffle House coffee I had with my friend Anna earlier in the night.
By the time Thursday morning rolled around, I was feeling the love coming from all over, friends sending well wishes, advice, and sweet voice mails. I skipped my first class just to compose myself, and with the hopes of returning to him the various things he left at my place. This didn't happen like I planned (few things ever do), and I was left with a box of shit that made me cry some more. After my last class, I threw a bag in my car and hit the road hard. Three hours may not seem like a long time, but when you're alone, save for Lucero and Tim Barry's music, it can feel like an eternity. I should have known better than to be alone with my thoughts, but a driving companion probably would have only made matters worse. I just drove, screamed the words to sad songs, cried. You know they don't make break-up songs like that. I guess because it's embarrassing to admit that you ever cared for someone who could hurt you like that. But around Cullman I finally got past the tears into the next stage, completely pissed. I've been in angry town for a few days now, with the help of Beth, Lara, Jenn, and Traci. These ladies are my rocks! They told me how amazing I was and how much I didn't deserve to be treated like I was. Again I can't ever express the gratitude I have for them. I love you all so much.
Anyway, I finally made it into downtown Florence around 5:30 and circled the block for a while looking for a place to park. I finally found a spot and walked the few blocks to meet Beth and Todd for Italian food (I can't remember the name...). But we ordered our food and were soon joined by a few more familiar faces. Emma, Todd, and Kat completed the table, and offered a good distraction from my thoughts. After our meal, Beth, Todd and I walked across the street to Billy Reid's to listen to Jay Leavitt talk about the musical history of North Alabama. Jay is a great speaker and just a fountain of knowledge. But alas, my short attention span got the better of me and I left the presentation early to go find a place on the front row.
I found my spot right between where Patterson and Shonna are usually set up and I camped out until the Whigs came to play. I had never heard them before, so it was a treat to watch. Their music was just right for the mood I've been in. I also enjoyed the lead singer's energy. He spent nearly the whole set jumping around, almost always with one foot off the ground, like a pogo stick or a kid who thinks he can fly. It was refreshing to see the passion those boys have for playing. Their set was a great start to the night to be sure.
Shortly after, the Truckers hit the stage. Patterson, all smiles as usual, came to greet the fans with a few handshakes, and for a lucky heartbroken girl, a nice kiss on the hand. I felt like a total rock star at that moment. I knew the rest of the show couldn't possibly be a disappointment. It was also a treat to see Spooner Oldham playing with the band. Cooley launched into a raucous version of "Where the Devil Don't Stay" that set the tone for the night. Then Patterson told a little story about some boys from Alabama. In those first few songs, I couldn't help but find my mind wondering what it would be like if he was there. But as soon as Mike crooned about love like this, I came to the conclusion that I don't ever want another love like the last. I was done thinking about the past; ready to pump my fists, yell, and sing until I couldn't stand up anymore. Not long after, Shonna sang her beautiful "I'm Sorry Houston" and brought the crowd back down to earth. But they weren't done with us yet. Cooley brought us all back to reality with "Women Without Whiskey." The energy in the room at this point in the show wasn't just infectious, it bounced off all hard surfaces just to shower back down on the crowd. Maybe it was my state of mind, but I haven't felt that close to a a group of strangers in a long time. And of course, the cute boy standing next to me, with the cool tattoos and sweet smile, just had to be taken. But regardless of what happened Tuesday night, I was bound and determined to have a damn good night, enjoy being free and to feel sexy.
That night, Patterson told a story about his step-dad Chester, of 18 Wheels fame of course, and his strength despite a dismal prognosis. 18 Wheels of Love now holds a different context, for me at least. But "Hell No I Ain't Happy" made my heart happy. I got to yelling those words and I really felt like I was exercising some of my demons and giving him a big ole cosmic "Fuck you!"
I'm normally a stand up front singing all the words kind of girl, but I found myself unable to sing some because I didn't believe them anymore, or they didn't feel right coming out of my mouth. But there were others that brought me to my knees and to tears. "Zip City," both nights, made me mad as hell and cry angry tears. Certain lines from "Marry Me" got me too. It's just amazing, how many times I've seen these guys live, but every time the songs mean something different in the context of my experience. I've grown closer to some songs, while others make me feel worse or I just don't hear them like I used to. I noticed a lot of little things at this performance that I don't normally or haven't noted in the past. I could feel the whole building shake when Brad got to drumming and the vibration of my ribs and insides when Shonna went to town. Also the faces of people in the crowd--they were just filled with joy and awe. Newcomers with their mouths open wide and eyes just sparkling, and old faces with the look of recognition when they realized what the next song was going to be. I have said this before, and I'll say it until I die: Drive By Truckers fans are some of the most amazing people in the world.
The encore was just to die for:
Home Field Advantage- Shonna makes me believe she could kick any one's ass when she sings. I love that about her.
3 Dimes Down
Runaway Train- Not a first for me, but I love it just the same.
Buttholeville- Good story, and I was near a bunch of locals who nearly lost their minds at hearing the song.
Ronnie and Neil- Nice segue from the last, a sort of growing up and transformation in thinking. That seemed to be going around a lot that night.
Zip City- Like I said..brought me to tears and inspired one of the most amazing adventures of my life.
Angels and Fuselage- Beautiful, haunting and so true. I'm scared shit less of what's coming next.
After a show that epic, I tend to wander around in the crowds of people, over-hearing bits of conversations about what they liked, hated, and what kicked ass. My ears rang because in my fit of packing I left my earplugs at home, but at least I was feeling something, even if it was pain. I drove to Jenn's dad's house around 1:30 in the morning, and not long after my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep. Considering I haven't slept well since it happened, I was relieved to let my mind rest on something other than details. Only one bad dream about what happened with the ex and I slept so very soundly, until 10:30 when Jenn woke me up for breakfast.
Friday mornings just don't get any better than this. The Bryant house is beautiful. All hand built, homey and full of morning sunlight. Her dad is probably one of the most amazing and generous men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He treated us to an amazing breakfast and my appetite surprised me. I guess being so far away from the place where the memories are made it easier to focus on living in the present, and not redrawing events. After breakfast I went for a dip in the cool water by the house, and went for a test drive in Jenn's new car. Then we headed to her mom's house for a nap, shower, and to take her mom to the rock show. Jenn's mom is also just an amazing lady; sweet and kind.
When we made it back to the theater that night, we popped on the bus to say hi, and Jenn went to give someone a hand. I wandered over to the line of people at the door and found Lara, my sweet and amazing big sister from another mister. On Wednesday night she told me a story I'll never forget, and spent the night letting me know everything was ok. I love her with all of my heart. We found Beth right where I knew she would be: in the front of the line, right next to the door, poised to be the first to claim a good spot. Beth, Todd, and Sean went with Emma, a Shoals native, to all of the sights earlier that day: Muscle Shoals Sound, FAME, and Zip City of course. And they were all ready to rock.
The Decoys opened that night, and right off the bat, the first thing I noticed was Patterson's father. The resemblance is uncanny, even down to his wild eyes and occasionally weary smile. David just seems like a man with a lot of good stories. The members of the Decoys may be old enough to be my grandfather, but their musicianship and stage presence is second to none. I was blown away by the songs, some of which I knew, but most I didn't. Their set still left a deep impression on me. The legends on that stage cannot be topped.
It was about half way through their set that I realized I was happy. Genuinely contented in that moment with my friends and a bunch of strangers.
Then it was time for the main event. Patterson pulled out the mandolin for "Bulldozers and Dirt" dedicated to Monster, a late friend. Cooley did some repeats from the night before, but they're still solid songs. The "Living Bubba" that Patterson belted was the best I've heard, and brought me some lines I needed to hear. He told me I can't die now, because there's a lot more living to do...more shows to play if you will. Pat did "Putting People on the Moon" and "Tornadoes" back to back in honor of the location of the show and just to bring the crowd to a frenzy. After these two, the band was joined by Patterson's dad David Hood for Shonna to belt "Where's Eddie." I don't think I had heard that song in its entirety before, but it brought me to my knees. Then Donnie Fritts & Scott Boyer of the Decoys joined in for Eddie Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love." It's a great song to be sure, but I just don't agree right now. I'm feeling quite cynical about nearly everything today. The next 3 songs were all from the newest record, Brighter Than Creations Dark, and all fit perfectly right after the Eddie Hinton tribute. Some were repeats from the night before, but still sound unique each night. Then came Steve McQueen! I love that song more than I should, and every time I've heard it I fall deeper into the song! And Patterson's cover of I'm Eighteen couldn't have been more fitting. I'm just going to assume that Traci told him what was going on with me, and he played it for me. That rounded out the first set, and the crowd got quite quiet in between the D-B-T chants. Like a collective "Holy shit!" moment. Like the night before, the energy from the crowd and the band, too, was bouncing all over and highly infectious.
The following encore was and will probably be my favorite I have ever seen. That may not sound like much coming from a nineteen year old, but I mean it wholeheartedly.
Zip City- For the second night in a row, made me cry.
A World Of Hurt- And those tears just spilled over into this song. I was feeling that whole world of hurt, and still am from time to time. But the hope in this song finds a way of implanting itself, for the possible need later when hope isn't so abundant or apparent.
Women Without Whiskey
Let There Be Rock- I just love hearing that I'm not the only one not ashamed or sorry for the things I've done.
People Who Died- This was EPIC! I think Patterson grew 10 feet in the first 5 seconds of this song. And he rocked it. I also got the pleasure of getting to scream a few "People Who Died"s with Patterson and Lara. Such an honor and so bad ass.
I haven't had a show that emotionally taxing in a while. I felt like someone ran me over with a bus but pulled me up off the pavement for some encouraging words and a kind smile. After I said my goodbyes to Beth, Todd, other Todd, Kat, Emma, Marina, Swamp, and Sean I headed out to the bus. I was on a mission to tell Patterson a big thank you and to get a hug from Shonna and Neff. When I got in Traci, my amazing mentor and adopted aunt was on the couch. She gave me some advice and encouraging words about the boy situation. She let me know that if we needed to sick Uncle Patterson and Cooley on him that it might could be arranged. :) She always makes me feel better. I sat down next to Spooner and surprisingly he remembered me from a previous encounter. I got the joy of listening to him and Donnie Fritts talk about some of their early recording experiences and touring stories. I wish I could remember more details, but I'm at a loss for the specifics. I was a bit starstruck, so sue me. I also got to talk to Matt D for a bit. It's hard to believe that I've known the band for 3 years. They've seen me grow up, get my braces off, their songs helped me through 4 break-ups, and finish my first two years of college.
Shonna bounded from the back lounge not long after and I got my hug and big smile from her. She is just as sweet as can be. And then I noticed that Jay Leavitt had sat down next to me. We got to talking, too. He's really cool and nice, despite the fact that I probably said too much about how I ended up in town for the weekend. I would love to sit down with him just to pick his brain. It has to be full of goodies and wisdom beyond his experience. And if he gets to read this, I want to thank him for the wise and kind words he said as I was leaving. I can't thank you enough for caring about a complete stranger.
Then Patterson disappeared into the back lounge, so I went with Traci to say goodbye to everyone. I had a long drive back to Jenn's mom's house, so I decided I needed to get on the road before I was too sleepy. I got my hug from Shonna and the biggest bear hug from Patterson. I love his hugs and the story he told me and Neff about the last time he drove to Jenn's momma's house. He and Cooley were in gorilla suits hauling ass down 43 while Cooley puked out the window. I got my hug from Neff and hit the road. The drive was long, but I needed time to clear my head of some thoughts. The stars were beautiful, too. There's no light pollution out there so you can see the stars forever. I slept like a baby for the second night in a row, and woke up to a bright and hopeful morning. Enjoyed an amazing cup of coffee and breakfast made by Jenn's mom, and headed back into town for another adventure.
But now the first semester of summer classes is almost over with only a tiny break until the next one. Health and wellness and Spanish nearly conquered with computer skills and modern philosophy still to come. I hate that I have to rush through some of these classes, but alas I need the credits in order to graduate on time. Five weeks just doesn't seem like nearly enough time to procure anything useful out of a college course. Honestly though, I'm glad to be done with this round of learning. I don't feel like I learned much of anything useful, but it's mostly my fault for not working harder. Meh...it's summer.
That's the absolute best excuse for all of what I've done this summer. And I don't regret one single bit of it. In all seriousness the best summer I've had ever, and I'm sure I was due for it finally. An apartment with a pool, decent neighbors, and a really rad new friend have made it perfect. I think I've found someone I can be comfortable with. My mom threw around the word smitten and I can't say she's completely wrong. Someone who enjoys my company as much as I enjoy his. And the first person to make me a mix CD with me in mind. That seems like such a trivial thing, but it really means a lot--probably more than it should. But if we could spend the rest of our lives just playing music we thought the other would enjoy, then I think I could die happy.
So as I'm typing this I am relaxing on my porch listening to the crickets mix with the Black Keys and watching all manner of bugs scurry and fly around. I should be writing about my favorite day with Spanish preterit and imperfect verbs, but that can wait until tomorrow night.
I promise next time it won't be nearly two months until I write again!
Till next time